South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s lawsuit against the federal government over a Fourth of July fireworks display she wants to put on at Mount Rushmore once again this summer has reignited tensions between Noem and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
The tribe has moved to join the lawsuit in opposition to Noem, who’s asking a federal judge to order the National Park Service to allow the fireworks display, like one held at Mount Rushmore last year.
The Republican governor sued the U.S. Department of Interior last month after the park service denied the state’s application for the event this year. It pointed to safety concerns and objections from local tribes.
The tribal lawsuit touches on a century-old dispute over ownership and control of the Black Hills, which include Mount Rushmore. In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that the land was taken from tribes in violation of treaty agreements and offered them a monetary payment.
Now, in the lawsuit over Noem’s hoped-for fireworks show at Mount Rushmore, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Steve Vance, the tribe’s historic preservation officer, argue that they should be allowed to take part in the lawsuit because the land on which Mount Rushmore sits is “our most sacred site — the Heart of Everything That Is.”
“The fact that this event could be forced upon us in our sacred lands despite our clear opposition to the event traumatizes us as a people and inflicts grief upon us,” the tribe and Vance argue in court documents. “To us, allowing this event to occur again is a colonial attack on one of our most sacred places.”
In a court filing in response to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s request to join the lawsuit, Noem argues that the tribe doesn’t have any legal standing in what she termed a “state-federal dispute.” Her lawyers say the fireworks display wouldn’t hinder the tribe’s religious or free speech rights.
When Noem filed the lawsuit, she argued that patriotism was a reason to allow the fireworks show at Mount Rushmore.
Chief Judge Roberto Lange of the federal district court of South Dakota hasn’t ruled on whether the tribe can join the suit. He indicated he’ll decide by June 2 whether to issue a preliminary injunction to force the National Park Service to allow the fireworks display.
Last year, Noem threatened to sue over coronavirus checkpoints the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe set up to keep unnecessary visitors off its reservation during the pandemic. Noem backed down.
South Dakota also sued the tribe for changing speed-limit signs on a state highway that runs through the reservation.